At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."

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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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Rooted in blues for 30 years
Arkansas Online, October 4th

"Robert Lockwood, the only survivor of the original King Biscuit Time musicians, played his music and that of his Delta blues mentor, Robert Johnson, on a different instrument, an electric 12-string guitar, in order to bring out the music's implicit...Read more

Musical Imbalance: An Interview with Prurient
Consequence of Sound (blog), October 2nd

You're right, they both had contributions to the album, or it wouldn't have been the album, not just dicking around with a 12-string guitar. I know Arthur did guitar and some synths. What else did you feel that he brought to the record? When we started...Read more

Flux Magnetic Double Neck Guitar Pulls Apart to Become Two Guitars — Video
Guitar World Magazine, October 2nd

A very new company named Flux Guitars has introduced a magnetic double-neck guitar called the Satellite. To be more accurate, it has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funding for the project. The guitar is magnetic in the sense that its two ...Read more

How Nathaniel Rateliff grew up believing in God and wound up believing in soul
The Guardian, October 1st

Rateliff's musical and religious education began simultaneously at home in Hermann, Missouri, where the family listened to releases from the Hosanna! and Vineyard labels and his parents performed in church – his mother played 12-string guitar and wrote ...Read more

'Legends of Hawaiian 12-String Guitar' at the Aratani
The Rafu Shimpo, September 30th

The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center presents “Legends of Hawaiian 12-String Guitar,” a special evening featuring founding member of the legendary M?kaha Sons, Jerome Koko, and Grammy winners George Kahumoku Jr. and Daniel ...Read more

Special Slack Key Show 12th Anniversary Celebration, Oct. 14
Maui Now, September 30th

This special showcase event will feature Kahumoku playing his signature 12-string guitar, along with grand master of slack key Led Ka?apana, and falsetto legend Richard Ho?opi?i. These three artists toured the mainland last year as The Hawaiian Masters ...Read more

Being Tom Petty — sort of, September 29th

To get the sound — and the visuals — “right,” VanDermaas has matched his musical equipment with Petty's, including a 12-string guitar for some songs, a Rickenbacker for others. “You gotta have the schtick, the act, the delivery to create that effect...Read more

Old coffeehouse, new life in Ipswich
Wicked Local Ipswich, September 28th

The Rounders feature Barry O'Brien, of Essex, on mandolin, six-string guitar and rhythm; Mike Maginn, of Hamilton, on six- and 12-string guitar; andPidgeon on six-string guitar. All contribute to the vocals. The Nov. 7 variety show will highlight the...Read more